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Screens and Signs

by Peggy Kaplan

During high school, my class studied “The Decipherment of Linear B.” The book explained how scholars took the script of “Linear B,” an early form of Greek, and interpreted the meaning of each sign. As I kibitzed the Reisinger Board-A-Match, perhaps the most prestigious event on the NABC calendar, I could not help but be reminded of Linear B.

During the later stages of elite national and international events, “screens” are used for competition. These wooden screens bifurcate a table diagonally. On each side of the screen, a player can see his opponent – but not his partner. Bids are pushed from one side to the other under a small opening in the middle of the screen. When play begins, a small door is opened so the played cards can be seen – yet nothing else.

What is the purpose of all this seemingly folderol? There is method to the madness! Screens help to prevent as much unauthorized information (“UI”) as possible. Players cannot see partner’s facial expressions. (“Oh, yes, I liked your lead, partner!) In many sequences, if someone on the other side of the screen is slow, they do not know if it’s partner or their opponent.

In a further effort to stop any UI, no one uses their voice to explain bids. All explanations are written down on small pads. “XX=1S+HCP”? “MAX HA?” As I examined these tiny scribbles being pushed to and fro; a modern day Linear B seemed to unfold.

But – as we all know, nothing in life is perfect. Over 1NT, one player bid 2C. On the pad, they wrote: “any S S.” Alas. The writer thought he was expressing “any single suit.” But, his screen mate thought this was “any 5-5 hand!” At a later stage in the auction, the inquiry “what was your second suit?” was met with mystery. Fortunately for all, the hand did not end in drama.

The last day of the Reisinger, fabric draping the tables provided more heightened security. This aided the prevention of any competitors inadvertently seeing bids, plays or hands from match to match. Yet it also gave the appearance of an intricate maze.

Still, most of the top level competitors are used to the odd physical conditions. They hunker down and adjust when playing. When done, they may visit over a screen like a neighbor’s fence, or poke a head through the small opening to chat with partner.

When all was said and done, system and performance led to a team of most worthy competitors securing the winner’s circle: Jimmy Cayne, Michael Seamon, Alfredo Versace, Lorenzo Lauria, Giorgio Duboin and Antonio Sementa. Congratulations to Team Cayne and to their magnificent overall performance in Seattle. Kudos, too, to all players who made it to the last day. That alone is quite the achievement!

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